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Commissioners support county employees’ pay raises

MANATEE — Reacting to a Bradenton Herald article on pay raises for Manatee County employees, the commissioners gave the county administrators a vote of confidence Thursday.

The Herald reported county administrator Ed Hunzeker planned to implement the recommendations of an employee compensation study and adjust the salaries of more than 750 workers.

Also reported in the article, Commissioner Joe McClash sent a letter to Hunzeker indicating his disagreement with Hunzeker’s actions because of the economic downturn the county is experiencing.

Statistics from the Suncoast Workforce Board indicate government jobs over the past year have been steady, while unemployment in the county went from 4.5 percent to today’s 8.7 percent.

The hardest-hit sectors have been construction and professional employee organizations, said Sally Hill, spokeswoman for the Suncoast Workforce Board.

Countywide, some increases in wages were reported, but they are no longer seeing them, Hill said.

Mike Gold, owner of B’Town Coffee Company on Main Street in downtown Bradenton, said a lot of his customers are county workers, and they have come in saying they are not getting raises.

“But people should be happy just to have a job,” Gold said. “Considering the economic times, people losing jobs and house, I don’t understand how they can be getting raises.”

At Thursday’s meeting, however, Chairwoman Gwen Brown chastised McClash for writing the letter, saying it was too critical of the county administrator.

“When the majority of the board votes,” Brown said, “you don’t turn around and beat the person up.”

She said the commissioners need to allow the county administrator to run the county.

That was the message of several other commissioners who did not approve of McClash’s letter to Hunzeker.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said McClash was interfering with the administrator doing his job.

“Our job is setting policy, not administrating,” Whitmore said.

In his defense, McClash said all he was trying to do was discuss the numbers in public.

“In the budget message, it stated there were no pay raises,” he said. “We knew a study would be done and the adjustments would be nominal.”

The adjustments — ranging from $100-$200 a year to $5,000 a year for some county workers — will cost about $1 million this year and more than $2 million next year, according to McClash.

Commissioner Larry Bustle said he was concerned about McClash’s actions, not only on this matter, but on several other issues, such as sending a letter to the county legislative delegation about a special taxing district for the port encouragement zone.

“I want to go on record,” Bustle said. “You do not speak for me unless there is a vote that gives consent to authorize you to speak for the commission.”

Bustle then submitted a proposed motion he titled “Anti-Micro-Management.”

The commission voted to discuss the proposal as a policy change at a future meeting.

Hunzeker addressed the commission, saying his job has been a challenge.

“I work for you,” he said. “In these tough times the county is only as good as the 1,700 employees out there.”

He said it was important to fix the inequities in the compensation structure.

“We’re asking them to do more with less,” Hunzeker said. “We need to expedite the compensation project and need to go to pay-for-performance.”

The commission then took a vote to approve Hunzeker’s actions on implementing the study, passing it 6-1, with McClash voting no.

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